Adopting a Few New “Habits”

The postulancy is a year for trying on a new way of life

“The Franciscans have been wearing the same thing for 800 years, and in no way is it out of style. From the latin word habitus meaning “to put on a new way of life,” the habit is an outward symbol of an inward commitment. I will not receive one until my second year, and will not have the three knots until I take my initial vows the following year.” Sound familiar? It should! It’s been on the right side of the screen under the brown habit since I launched this blog!

I think it’s a great idea on the part of the order to a have a preparatory year such as this in which we do not receive the habit because it allows us to discern our own inward commitments a bit more before we show the world in such a physical way. This, however, doesn’t mean that we as postulants can’t begin “to put on a new way of life,” expressing the beginnings of our inward commitment by adopting personal “habits” so to speak. Here are a few of the lifestyle changes that I’ve made so far this year that I feel are both a representation of my commitment and an aid to strengthen it.

Early to bed, early to rise: It’s been a very difficult discipline, but I’ve been in bed by 11:00 almost every single night, and up by 7:00 every single morning. For those who don’t think that’s hard, remember that I’m 22, and just 6 months ago I was on the 1:30am-9:30am sleep cycle. The first week of transitioning was awful, but I’ve been okay with it since.

No more dryer for me: In an attempt to lower my carbon footprint and better respect God’s creation, I’ve decided to air-dry all of my clothes. It takes about ten extra minutes of work to hang all of them on a drying rack than than to throw them in dryer, but there is absolutely no energy used in the process. It also means that my clothes, in theory, will last longer, requiring me to buy new things less often.

Praying multiple times a day, every day: As a community, we pray in the morning at 7:30, in the evening at 5:15, and at night at 9:00. Though this isn’t exactly an optional habit to get into, it still requires an appropriate mindset for each: I could simply show up to each, or I could take a few minutes before and after the set times to prepare and reflect. I’m certainly working towards the latter, and it’s one of the best habits I’ve adopted.

Reading the Bible everyday: As a typical Catholic growing up, I didn’t read the Bible often, and the extent of my knowledge came from the readings at mass. Given that it has a couple thousand pages, it would be easy enough to label it an overwhelming task and never read any of it. But if I commit to reading a chapter or two every day, 3-6 pages a day turns into more than a thousand pages in a year. I can commit to three pages a day! So far I’ve read the Gospel of Luke, most of John, and the commentaries for both.

Clean and simple room: For those of you who know me well, this may be the most shocking habit I’m attempting to adopt. I have made my bed every day, I fold and put away clothes immediately, and I’ve put papers and books back where they go rather than letting them stack up. As I said in A Rush To Slow Down, my room is my sacred space, and part of keeping it sacred is keeping it clean. So far so good, but we’ll have to see once the year starts getting a little busier!

Obviously there are a lot more things that have changed in my life since last year, but I thought that these were the most significant. I hope that adopting these new habits with great joy will help me discern my commitment to following St. Francis’ way of following Jesus.

I won’t be able to post again until Tuesday night at the earliest as we’re heading off to the beach for a community retreat. Thanks for reading and I hope you’ll check back Tuesday or Wednesday!

It’s Off to Work We Go

Father Ron took this picture of us yesterday

Yesterday our lives as postulants got busy. After a month of a sort of “grace period, (but of course, all periods with the friars are graced…) we were let loose from the house, sent forth into the world to minister. Three days a week, Edgardo will meet with the Legion of Mary where he will be visiting the sick and bringing communion to the housebound parishioners; Ramon and Sergio will drive up to Philadelphia to work at the St. Francis Inn where they will be serving the poor directly; and Dennis and I will be going to a nursing home in Newark to visit the sick and elderly.

Unlike most nursing homes, Jeanne Jugan Residence is a warm, inviting place where almost all of its residents are happy to be there, and there is a waiting list of a few years to be admitted. Run by the Little Sisters of the Poor, a religious order of women devoted to the sick and elderly, this home offers a dignity and respect to each of its residents that I have never seen before: there are two full-time entertainment coordinators that run games and events every day, the residents are visited on a daily basis by the sisters, the food is honestly very good, and the facilities feel more like a big comfortable home than a drafty hospital. The sisters that run the home actually take a forth vow (along with poverty, chastity, and obedience) of hospitality, vowing to never let anyone feel unwelcome or lonely, caring for those especially on their deathbed. Besides serving those who can no longer serve themselves, the sisters have a whole wing of the building set aside as apartments for more active and independent people, free to come and go as they please.

All in all, pretty boring job right? Listen to old folks ramble on about the “good ol’ days” and about how “kids these days” are ruining society, right? Yesterday, I played a card game called Tri-Virsity with three sassy women that had me on my toes and laughing the whole time (who also beat me), got a chance to go to mass, ate ribs with the residents living in the apartments, played host to a number of game shows such as “Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader?” then rounded out the day by getting my butt kicked in Wii bowling by someone three times my age (seriously, I bowled a 223 and this old lady beat me by more than 20 pins!)

Because there’s such a range in activity levels, I’m excited to run a bible study for some, but also be a pair of ears for the lonely ones who never get visitors; play competitive card games, but also push someone’s wheelchair outside so they can get fresh air; listen to some tell me about how I’m “exactly like my grandson” or “perfect for my granddaughter” but also talk without response to others so they know someone’s with them.

For Dennis and I, work looks a bit more like leisure: we play games, we sit and talk, and we enjoy a meal together. But in the end, even though it may not be very “difficult” to do what we’re doing, does it make it any less significant for the person to which we’re ministering? If we want to uphold the dignity of all human life and foster the authentic development of all human life, I think it’s equally as important to play Wii with a lonely old woman as it is to give bread to a hungry young man. Don’t you? When I look at it this way, and realize that God needs help in many different ways, it’s pretty easy to just let go, take a vow of obedience, and minister wherever it is I’m told to go… even if that place is a nursing home.

Español con Capuchinas

(It means

As some of you may know, my spanish is pretty abysmal. I took the required three courses while at Furman, and passed with an A-, B, and C respectively (but not all that respectably). As if it wasn’t poor enough “in my prime,” it’s been more than a year since I’ve tried to speak it. So… yeah… I don’t speak Spanish.

That’s all about to change! Our province believes that it is very important that all of it’s members have a basic understanding of the language and be able to at least communicate on the lowest level with the Hispanics we serve. Throughout our formation, we will be encouraged to “perfect” our speaking ability through classes, leading up to a trip to Bolivia in a few years. But before that happens, there is a lot to be learned, which brings me to tonight: our first class. The original plan was to enroll in a community college course and to learn the language very formally; that’s what they’ve done in years past, and it has worked out okay. But with the larger group this year, the large difference in experience levels, and the possibility of missing classes due to travel, there is a new plan: class with the Mexican sisters down the street.

Tonight was the first try at the new experiment. The four non-native speakers spent an hour and a half sitting around a kitchen table casually trying to communicate with Sister Delores and one another, fumbling over words and, I’m sure, saying things we didn’t mean to say. Luckily for us, Sister Delores is a very understanding and funny woman, and was patient with each of us, using a mix of English and Spanish to get through the conversation. All in all, it was actually a really fun time and I think it was a great environment to learn. I look forward to meeting with her each week, and God willing, becoming a bit more proficient in the language. (Well, maybe God can’t do everything…)

“Franciscan” Cinema

As we begin to investigate the plethora of material about Francis in order to better know and follow him, we begin this week with cinema: Brother Sun Sister Moon, Francesco, and Into the Wild. All of the movies share a “franciscan” spirit, but differ greatly in style and content.

I’m sorry to all of you that grew up in the 1960s and 70s, but this movie was awful. Directed by Franco Zeffirelli (the same guy who did Romeo and Juliet), everything about this movie reflects the hippie culture in which it was made. Focusing almost exclusively on Francis’ connection with nature, the movie is filled with scenes of him running through flowery fields, smiling and singing to animals, and carelessly and aimlessly frolicking through life like someone on psychedelic drugs. I found him to be very socially awkward and out of touch, two things that Francis very much was not.

Undoubtedly aware of the frilly, hippie-like depictions of Francis that are very common, Francesco attempted to place Francis, in all of his raw humanity, accurately into the 13th century world. Using fairly graphic images, it follows him through his experience of pride and indulgence in his youth, barbaric tragedies while he was at war, and real struggles with pain, lust, confusion, and ridicule after his conversion. There is a relatable humanity in his experience, and a realism in his conversion. Poverty appears to be the most emphasized aspect of this movie, but it does an adequate job of showing the development of brotherhood (even showing the disorganization and mutiny that ensued, showing the real human problems that he faced).

The last movie we watched was not about Francis per se, but dealt with a number of issues that Francis did in his early life. Into the Wild is a movie about a college graduate that feels alienated by his upper middle class family, confined by society’s definitions of “free,” and “happy,” and in search of a life with deeper meaning than money can buy. Without telling his parents, he gives away his money, burns his social security card, and sets out to live in complete isolation from all forms of society, finding life outside of society to be the height of existence (in a nonconformist and escapism sort of way). As a rugged individual too guarded for intimacy, he begins to shape the lives of those he encounters, but refuses to see any one of them as more than utilitarian in his own life. It’s only at the very end of his journey that he realizes, “Happiness is only real when shared.”

Each movie had a quality to it that I found very endearing, while also having some major flaws. From what I read about Francis and what drew me to this life, was that his conversion was motivated by love of his brother and sister, seeking to be a humble servant to all as Jesus did. Though he expressed this by regaining touch with God’s creation, lowering himself in status and power, and leaving his old self behind, he did not find any one of these things to be an end in themselves. Some aspects of the movies captured his humanity quite well, depicting him as an ENFP (or at least that’s how I see him); other aspects romanticized him a bit too much, stripping him of any flaw or human quality. I think the latter is a great detriment to his life. Ultimately, each captures a unique aspect of the great man that I find so inspiring and hope to be worthy of following some day.

A Day Off… kind of

I didn't even have to fake being sick!

As I said in Far From Routine, we have a “plan” for each week; whether or not we stick to it is a completely different story. Part of this plan is that Saturdays and Sundays are left as free as possible, requiring us to attend mass, prayer, and meals, but allowing us the freedom to do whatever we need to relax and recharge. Since we’ve been either traveling or in workshops each weekend since we arrived, today became “kind of” one of those free days. We started with prayer and mass this morning, but don’t have any responsibilities until evening prayer, dinner, and a movie about Francis later tonight.

Which leaves me with a million dollar question: what should I do with my day “off”? At the risk of scheduling my whole day with work, I’d like to take advantage of the rare freedom to get some things done that I’ve been putting off.

As if I were still in school, there is a tower of reading (both personal and assigned) that I would like to catch up on. This includes: Where is God by Jon Sobrino, a reflection on the earthquake that hit El Salvador in 2001 and an incredible work in theodicy; Francis of Assisi- The Saint- Volume 1, a compilation of the early documents written by or about Francis, including the famous biography by Thomas of Celano; Lumen Gentium and Gaudium et Spes, two of the most critical documents that came out of the Second Vatican Council, and documents that I’ve skimmed before but would like to read in full; and always, The New American Bible, something that I would like to make time for every day.

Remembering that I’m not still in school, I will not, however, be spending the whole day catching up on reading, no matter how high the stack gets. I’ve just heard from one of the postulants that we’ve finally found the key to the giant bell tower at our church, and we will be exploring that later. I will of course be bringing my camera, and hopefully there’s a great view from the city worth posting! I’d also like to do a bit of exploring of the city, possibly even having lunch downtown somewhere. Wilmington is small, and despite what our neighborhood looks like, the downtown is kind of nice.

At some point during the day I will have to do a bit of real work, as indicated in the “kind of” part of the title. Each of us has a set of chores that need to be completed each week, and given our busy schedules, there’s not a whole lot of time to do them except on our day off. I’m in charge of the second floor hallway, the recreation room and bathroom, and the staircases. It’ll be a bit of work, and I’m not sure if I’ll be able to (or feel like) finishing it all today, but they’ll get done. I think it’s an important part of community for each of us to share a significant portion of the work, no matter how new or old, qualified or unqualified.

Last but certainly not least, I would like to set aside part of my day for intentional prayer and reflection. Even in religious community, it can be easy to check prayer off the list each day (or to even skip it) and move on quickly to the next thing. There are a list of topics that I have been paying particularly close attention to, and I would like some more time to pray about them. Check back later tonight to see which one I chose to focus on!

And with that, it’s time to get off the computer and start enjoying my day! Have a great day and thanks for reading!